This week, it's my turn for our 100 Favorite Dishes. Find out what you're missing with this list of 100 memorable dishes at local restaurants. We'll count down every weekday, with the top dishes appearing right before our annual Best Of Issue comes out. Enjoy!
The first time I ordered this mixture of mixed cuts of lamb, Chinese preserved cabbage (called suancai or 酸菜) and vegetables, the server at OC's most famous Hui (Chinese Islamic) restaurant looked at me and my wife and shook his head. "Are you sure you want that?" he asked. "It's very strong, you know, a very strong flavor." We persevered, explaining that we really did not want another plate of gloppy, cornstarchy, overly sweet fried meat, and were rewarded with a smile and a dish that seems as far from pick-one-from-each-column Chinese-American food as it's possible to get.
The preserved cabbage is very sour, like very old kimchi without the chile heat, and to call it an assertive taste is something of an understatement. Pairing it with a gamy meat such as lamb seems like the result should be unappealingly malodorous, but the match is a good one: the two complement each other surprisingly well, with the lamb cutting the lactic acid of the cabbage, and the cabbage masking the mustiness of lamb. The first bite is alarming, but we find ourselves picking at the dish for a long time.
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Don't eat rice with this dish; pony up for an (enormous) order of Mrs. Ma's justifiably famous wheat round flatbreads with scallions and sesame seeds. The bread goes better with this dish, which hails from the north where rice doesn't grow.
Mas' Islamic Restaurant, 601 E. Orangethorpe Ave., Anaheim; (714) 446-9553.
The rest of the list:
#100. Jerk Carnitas Torta at The Crosby
#99. Nem Nuong Cuon at Brodard
#98. Pork Chop Anything at Nice Time Deli
#97. Flying Saucer at Alberto's
#96. Frozen Custard at Marc Burger's in Macy's Signature Kitchen
#95. Collard Greens at Johnny Reb's
#94. Strawberry Shortcake from Job's Daughters
#93. Cuban Sandwich at DeSimone's Deli